We’re back in court to defend access to justice

Over the last two days, we have been at the Supreme Court of Canada intervening in Council of Canadians with Disabilities v British Columbia – a case that will have a major impact on the ability of public interest organizations to bring legal cases on behalf of marginalized communities.

We intervened to argue that organizations like West Coast LEAF play a critical role in supporting access to justice for our community members. Constitutional litigation is expensive, complex, and can take years to resolve, and many marginalized communities face social, political, and economic barriers to bringing forward their own cases.

When public interest organizations are barred from bringing litigation on behalf of community members, unjust and unconstitutional laws may go unchallenged.

At the start of the case, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) was joined by two individuals to challenge the constitutionality of a section of the Mental Health Act that strips people who are detained under the Act of the right to make decisions with respect to their mental health care. BC’s mental health regime is the most regressive in Canada, and people who are forcibly treated can be traumatized by the experience and avoid seeking mental health care again in the future.

Later, the two individuals were unable to continue their involvement in the case. This is a common experience when people who are marginalized and oppressed take on the additional burden of a constitutional challenge.

The CCD planned to take the case to trial on its own as a public interest organization representing this marginalized group. Yet, the Province of BC tried to have the case dismissed by claiming that the CCD did not meet the test for public interest standing.

In August 2020, the BC Court of Appeal unanimously found that courts must remain flexible and generous about allowing public interest organizations like CCD and West Coast LEAF to challenge unconstitutional laws on behalf of community members who lack money, status, and privileged access to the legal system.

Yesterday, we were back before the courts to defend meaningful access to justice. Read our submissions to the court.

Now that the two-day hearing has ended, stay tuned for news about the outcome of this critical case.

We’re grateful to pro bono counsel Tim Dickson and Jason Harman of JFK Law for representing West Coast LEAF in this case.

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